Bus services under-threat

Anglea Patchett (centre) is petitiioning to stop cuts to bus services. Pictured with her from left are Audre Haughan, Stanley Baines, Graham Crow, Gail Fisher and Norma Watkin.
Anglea Patchett (centre) is petitiioning to stop cuts to bus services. Pictured with her from left are Audre Haughan, Stanley Baines, Graham Crow, Gail Fisher and Norma Watkin.

Four vital bus services in Fleetwood look set to be withdrawn – including the town’s only direct service to Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

Bus users have expressed their shock and anger at the news after initial confusion about what was happening.

These are vital bus services and we cannot just sit back

The under-threat bus services – 74, 75, 84A (evening and weekends), and 86 are bus routes not deemed to be commercially viable without subsidies from Lancashire County Council.

But County Hall has announced the funding will be slashed from April 2 as part of the massive £262m saving needed due to Government cutbacks, leaving the services likely to be scrapped.

Now activists in the town are urging residents to take part in County’s consultation exercise, which runs until March 27, to ensure the impact of the buses’ withdrawal will register with the authority.

To have your say visit: http://www3.lancashire.gov.uk/corporate/consultation/responses/response.asp?ID=283.

Fleetwood resident Ivor Bould, a former Fleetwood Town council member, said: “There has not been sufficient information out there about this, so we need to get it out there and make sure people let the council know how they feel.

“These are vital bus services and we cannot just sit back.

“The loss of our only direct link to Victoria Hospital will be a terrible blow to people who don’t have cars and rely on it.”

Mr Bould was one of several residents who were confused after some Facebook messages suggested it was the NowCard fare concessions, instead of the subsidies, at risk.

But the Nowcard scheme is Government-run and not affected by the cutbacks at County hall; it is the bus routes themselves which stand to be lost.

The daily daytime 74 bus runs from Fleetwood to Blackpool Victoria via stops including Pheasants Wood estate in Thornton and also Cleveleys and Poulton town centres.

Another daily daytime route, the 75, runs between Fleetwood and Preston, and is popular with commuters who work in Preston.

The 84A is an evening and weekend service linking to Fleetwood to Blackpool via Cleveleys and Poulton, while the 86 is the only bus route linking Fleetwood to Knott End and Over Wyre.

Should the Fleetwood to Knott End ferry, also under threat, end up being lost it would mean that all public transport links between Fleetwood and Knott End would be lost.

Another Fleetwood resident, Ivy Shawcross, also thought it was the NowCards at risk and was shocked to find out it was the buses.

She said: “I was worried enough about the free bus travel being lost, but in some ways this is worse.

“People in all the areas where these buses run will be left high and dry.

“We need as many people to have their say as possible.”

Angela Patchett, who led a campaign two years ago to try and restore use of the NowCard concessions on the trams, said: “It will be a disaster if all these buses are lost and it’s disgusting they are at risk.

“All of them offer vital services to local communities.

“We cannot stand by and do nothing.”

And trader Paul Freeman, of Pharos Food, News and Booze, on North Albert Street, said: “The museum, the ferry, the buses and possibly even the trams - will there be anything left?

“We are at the end of the line here, on a peninsular. We can’t afford to lose our transport links. It seems that at the moment, everything in Fleetwood is at risk of disappearing.”

Two other buses, the coastal number 1 and the 14, which links Fleetwood to Blackpool via Thornton and Carleton, have not been affected by the cutbacks.

However, discussions are ongoing about the future of the tram link to Fleetwood, after County Hall agreed to the cut its £280,000 towards the tram link in Wyre. There are fears the trams may only run to Anchorsholme and cut off Fleetwood altogether, with Blackpool Council left having to consider the funding shortfall.

It all adds up to a bleak situation for Fleetwood’s overall transport links, although other areas of the county have been affected by cuts to bus routes as well.

Coun John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport at Lancashire County Council, said: “The council’s financial situation is very stark and we face using the bulk of our reserves just to balance the budget over the next two years.

“By 2017/18, we will only just have enough money to pay for our statutory services.

“We fully recognise the impact that this will have on people who rely on frontline services such as subsidised bus services. However, the government has made clear that it will make further substantial cuts to council budgets over the coming years.

“This will hit low income families, young people in education and employment along with the elderly just going about their daily lives to the doctors or shops.

“We are in an impossible situation with our funding being cut to support bus services that local people desperately need.”